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How Scrambles Photography Group are combating isolation through photography

Date published: 14 Dec 2020

Posted by: Alyn Mulholland

Scrambles group during a guided walk around Highfield's Park with vegan wildlife photographer Jusep Moreno.

This is the third blog in our #WINDOWONTHEWORLD series which offers a platform to artists who have taken a non-traditional route into the arts.

Scrambles Photography Group is based in Nottingham. It is a photography group and supportive network for people experiencing mental health conditions. The group was founded in 2018 after taking part in Nottingham’s first Off-Centre Photography Festival.

Scrambles evolved from photography courses run by the Nottingham Photographers Hub, for people experiencing mental health conditions. Nottingham based photographer, artist and researcher Jagdish Patel, who was involved with the Hub, organised a project for former students. It culminated in an exhibition on the theme of mental health, which was part of the 2018 Off-Centre Photography Festival. The exhibition was held at Cafe Sobar on Friar Lane. For many of the members was their first opportunity to exhibit artwork publicly. It prompted comments from the group such as “this is the most important thing I have ever done” and “it helped me feel like I was part of something”.

Light over an empty street. One person stands at a lamppost. Two car a driving towards the viewer.
Photograph by Stephanie Shaw. The image was featured in the first Scrambles exhibition. It captures, as Stephanie describes it, “not a feeling as such, more a loss of feeling and a sense of isolation which are far reaching”.
Photo of apples in a tree
Photograph by Benjamin Elliott. Benjamin has a physical disability which causes him to shake. For his photography he has turned it into a positive by using it to take what he calls “shakey photos” allowing viewers to see the world through his eyes.

Following this project, those involved decided to form a group. We called it Scrambles – based on the initials of the founding members – and because, as one of our group said at the time, having a mental illness can “make it feel as though your brain is scrambled”. The members of the group work together. They use photography creatively and mindfully to aid recovery, and express themselves through their art. The photography helps with mental wellbeing by reducing isolation, creating a purpose and offering opportunities for personal achievement. As explained by one of our members, Stephanie Shaw, “the photography allows me to focus on the moment, which helps with my anxiety”. It also gives people an opportunity to tell their story.

The group meet for photography shoots and social events. We regularly participate in exhibitions and projects. Most of our photo-shoots are local. We have visited Wollaton Hall, Highfields Park, The Arboretum, Light Night and Attenborough Nature Reserve. We meet socially, weekly, at a local cafe for a coffee (without cameras). This has helped combat feelings of isolation and loneliness for some of our members. We also meet monthly at The Photo Parlour to organise events and activities.

Older man wearing a hat
Photograph by Chris Middleton. During lockdown Chris has begun a series of photographs whilst out on his daily walk called ‘Characters of Nottingham’. In this series of photograph Chris “defines characters in and around Nottingham as they are seen rather than known”.
A view across Nottingham
Photograph by Lester Shipley. Called “view from a locked down room”. Representing the lockdown experience very well, this is the view across Nottingham taken from Lester’s living room window.

The Off-Centre Festival website explains the ethos of the group very well:

“the monthly meet-ups enable people to share work, ideas, and pool resources to further develop their creative practice by organising trips, learning projects or other events. Scrambles is a peer support platform for people from all backgrounds, experiences and stages in their practice. However, it’s a shared safe space, and run voluntarily by the members. This means it works best when people come both to share but also to help. Hence, a commitment to help, work collaboratively and collectively to lift one another up is important.”

We have taken part in several exhibitions and projects. They include an ongoing National Heritage funded project in collaboration with New Art Exchange. On hold because of Covid-19 and lockdown, it is documenting the history of Derwent Valley Mills.

Red-breasted Robin
Photograph by John Wheat. Taken during a lockdown walk around Ruddington Park.

Most of our activities have been affected by Covid-19 and the lockdowns. It has prevented us from meeting up in the usual way. To avoid anyone feeling isolated we decided to hold our weekly social meeting online via Zoom. This has been a great way of keeping in touch during lockdown when some of our group have had the additional problem, due to health conditions, of ‘shielding’. Lockdown has affected those with mental health conditions particularly hard, so it has been important to put things in place to combat this.

A cup of coffee
Photograph by Lisa Stead. At home with a hot steaming mug of coffee during lockdown.
Photograph by Lisa Stead: Fairground taken by Lisa during lockdown.

Before the first lockdown the group began a project, organised by Jagdish Patel, called Tasty Tuesday. This involved photography classes held at Thomas Helwys Baptist Church in Lenton. They are followed by a free meal provided by Himmah, a charity based in Nottingham. Himmah tackles poverty, wellbeing, race and social exclusion and the photographs from the project were initially to be on that theme. However, since the first lockdown began and the classes at Tommy’s had to be cancelled, the Tasty Tuesday project was taken online, via Zoom. We decided to change the theme to ‘the experiences of lockdown’, which seemed more appropriate. The photographs from this project will be published in a book in December 2020 and will be available from Scrambles.

Portraits edited on to Nottingham building front
Photograph by Alyn Mulholland. Part of the Tasty Tuesday book publication, this represents Scrambles Zoom meetings during lockdown, superimposed over Canning Circus Creative Hub where Alyn has his studio.

Over the two years since we began, Jagdish Patel has continued to be our mentor and supported us along the way. We have also had support from New Art Exchange and The Photo Parlour where we meet monthly to plan our projects and events and show and discuss the photographs we’ve taken.

Photograph by Alyn Mulholland. In 2019, Scrambles members (Rita Kaur, Ben Elliott, Karlito Knight and Chris Middleton) were invited by New Art Exchange to be part of a panel discussion about mental health and creativity.

Membership of Scrambles is open to anyone experiencing a mental health condition. It isn’t necessary to prove or explain your condition. You don’t need to be an expert photographer or to have an expensive camera. It is accessible to all – some of the group use their mobile phone camera. We have qualified photographers who are happy to show you how your camera works and help you to improve your photography skills. The group is very friendly and supportive. Several members of the group are qualified mental health peer support workers and mental health first aiders.

Anyone interested in joining the group can email co-ordinator Alyn Mulholland at alynmulholland@yahoo.co.uk or check out their Facebook page.

Header image by Benjamin Elliott. Scrambles group during a guided walk around Highfield’s Park with vegan wildlife photographer Jusep Moreno.


Instagram Takeover

Scrambles will be taking over the City Arts Instagram account from 14th to 20th December 2020.

Follow us @CityArtsNotts.